With over 27,000 metres of climbs and descents along its path, the 655 km Australian Alps Walking Trail is not for the faint-hearted. It is perhaps the country’s most difficult and ambitious long-distance trail. Beginning at Walhalla, the trail weaves through the backcountry of Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), finishing at Tharwa, near to Canberra. Traversing mainly national parks, this wilderness hike takes you through rough, desolate alpine country, across high exposed plains and through majestic forests and woodlands, as well as crossing several rivers, some of which have to be waded through. The five national parks it journeys through are;
- Baw Baw National Park
- Alpine National Park
- Kosciuszko National Park
- Namadgi National Park
- Brindabella National Park
Experienced walkers only!
The trail is signposted for some of its length, in a tri-state agreement, but in the wilderness areas, there are long sections with no or minimal markers. This is intentional, the trail has been designed for experienced walkers; some sections have no track at all, you just follow the ridges and hope to find the occasional marker to confirm you are on the trail. For these reasons, hikers must have excellent navigational skills and be experienced with using them in the wilderness. The trail markers are yellow diamonds, placed fairly low to the ground, so depending on the season, they may or may not be visible; snow in winter, for example, can hide them. There are also totems with direction markers placed at road and trail intersections.
Away from it all
The trail is fairly remote; there are no towns or resupply posts along it, although it does skirt by several ski resorts, but a series of food drops will be essential if doing a thru-hike. Careful planning is needed and most end to enders spend a few days beforehand driving and depositing food caches at roughly 5 to 8-day intervals. A tent is essential, suitable camping areas are fairly easy to find (ie dry, flat ground with water nearby), although from late spring to early autumn, water may be difficult to come by, particularly in the Barry Mountains and around Mount McDonald. Water tanks have been installed at some locations, although they should never be depended upon.
To complete the whole trail, count on between 5 to 8 weeks and be prepared for some tough hiking, albeit it some stunning areas. If thru-hiking is not an option, there are many access points enabling hikers to break the trail into smaller sections. Many of the national parks have walking tracks which cross or join the AAWT for sections.
There are some restrictions with regards to fuel stoves, and camping and fire permits are needed in certain areas, so along with food supplies, this means the trail needs to be meticulously planned in advance. As with any mountainous area, the weather is variable and fickle, for these reasons late spring is the favoured time for thru-hikers, although the problem of water may arise. If hiking in the wintertime, be prepared for snow and adapt your kit accordingly. Whatever the season, intended distance and weather conditions, be prepared for an amazing adventure!